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Full text of "A story about a real man"

PART   FOUR

On a hot summer day in 1943, and old truck raced
along a road that had been beaten through neglected
fields overgrown with reddish weeds by the baggage trains
of advancing Soviet Army divisions. Bumping over pit-
falls and rattling its ramshackle body, it headed for the
front line. On each of its battered and dust-covered sides
there could barely be seen a white painted strip bearing
the inscription: "Field Postal Service". As the truck raced
along, it left behind a huge, fluffy trail of grey dust which
dissolved slowly in the close, still air.
The truck was loaded with mail bags and bundles of
the latest newspapers, and in it sat two soldiers in air-
men's tunics and peaked caps with blue bands, bumping
and swaying in unison with the motions of the truck. The
younger of the two, who, judging by his brand-new
shoulderstraps, was a sergeant-major in the Air Force,
was lean, well-built and fair-haired. His face was of such
a virginal tenderness that it seemed as though the blood
were shining through the fair skin. He looked about nine-
teen. He tried to behave like a seasoned soldier, spat
through his teeth, swore in a hoarse voice, rolled cigarettes
as thick as a finger, and tried to appear indifferent to
everything. But in spite of all that, it was evident that he
was going to the front line for the first time and was
nervous. Everything around—a damaged gun by the
roadside with its muzzle pointing to the ground; a wrecked
Soviet tank with weeds growing right up to its turret; the
scattered wreckage of a German tank, evidently the result
of a direct hit of a bomb; the shell craters already over-
grown with grass; the mine discs removed from the road
by sappers and piled by the roadside near the new cross-
ing, and the birch crosses in the German soldiers' ceme-
tery visible in the distance—traces of the battles that had
raged here, and to which a war-seasoned soldier would